Dear Baby Henry,
Big news. Our breastfeeding journey is coming to an end. You seem passively unaware of this impending reality. I, on the other hand, am a hot mess of emotion. Allow me to explain where I'm coming from.
It's been a long nine-to-ten months of pretty consistent breastfeeding, my little guy.
We started off well enough.
You arrived into this world a sweet little ball of love. And occasional hunger. So I would feed you, and you loved it. We both loved it.
Then we went home, the milk came in, and things got harder.
A few lactation consultations later and a quick trip to the ER, and we were back on good footing.
People would ask me often if breastfeeding was going easier the second time around. I have to say, it's a mixed bag. Some things get better: I knew positions to try, the equipment I liked best, and when things didn't go well I knew who to call. Since having my first baby I've met and become close friends with an army of super smart breastfeeding mamas. They are my rock(s). And I've amassed a bag of handy breastfeeding tricks; those came back to me like riding a bicycle. A bicycle made of boobs... or something. The point is, breastfeeding was not necessarily easier by nature, I just had more resources and a lot more confidence.
On the other hand, some things don't change and were just not "easy" at all. Nipple pain. Engorgement. And this one night where I sat in bed trying over and over again to get Henry to latch and he just didn't. And even though I was confident and I knew these things can happen and it wasn't my fault, I couldn't help it. I broke down. "I just can't. I caaaaan't!!"
But somehow after the breakdown, I did. I kept breastfeeding. I mean, not right then obviously. We gave the baby a bottle or pacifier or something. But afterward I got help and carried on.
For months breastfeeding went well. It was everything it should be: convenient, cheap, a chance to sit down and watch TV or read books on my Kindle or read blogs on my phone. I loved breastfeeding during this time. I loved the chance to sit down with my little guy and stare at him, to let him fall asleep and just enjoy the smallness of this sweet baby.
Baby Henry had the fantastic habit of working his way up to hunger so that I typically could see it coming. He would start whimpering, sometimes in his sleep. Then I would try to finish up whatever I was doing. Then he'd ramp up a little, crying softly. I'd get my water, my remote control, and my phone, and I'd snap on my nursing pillow (the green one above). And finally if I was lucky, I'd grab Henry right before he really started crying hard for the milk. He would latch and off we'd go.
The bigger he got, the better we got at the nursing. He could latch from any angle. I could get started and then completely check out, launching into a TV show that I could even actually finish. Why? Either he would fall asleep on my lap, or if not, I could set him on the living room floor in front of me and he'd play for a while. By himself! Seriously, someone call Stanford, this kid is incredible.
Things changed, of course, as they always do. I went back to work at about 14 weeks and started pumping twice a day. Pumping is never "fun" but it provided lots of free milk and another little chance in my day to take a break. Yet, pumping takes work and practice and was painful at first. It's not as easy as just switching out the baby for the machine. Would that it were! Nothing expresses as efficiently as a baby, and the boobs cannot be fooled. I started to feel at odds with my pump. Would it be nice to my nipples today? Would it express at least 4 ounces on each side as I requested (at first, yes, but over time, not so much)? Would I get that let-down reflex or would I be searching my phone for video of Henry to remind my body what we were doing this for? Work with me, pump!
Then after work there was the get-home-get-naked shuffle. It goes like this:
- Walk in the door
- Put down bag
- Set today's expressed milk in the fridge
- Take off shoes, then shirt, then pants
- Find nursing tank in pile of laundry
- Change quickly into nursing-friendly clothing
- Get Henry out of the car seat (now crying hysterically)
- Find nursing pillow, snap on, sit down
- Latch .... ahhh
After several months of this little dance, I started to see that it was making me very unhappy. When Henry turned 8 or 9 months his attention span shortened considerably. He would thrash around while nursing, detaching constantly to see what his sister was doing or who was talking on TV (he knows the HGTV hosts like family). I'd get so frustrated and just want it to be over. He also started occasionally taking a small bite, you know, just to see what would happen. After talking with several people about it I decided that nursing wasn't a positive experience for us any more. Instead of baby cuddles and staring into each others' eyes, he was fidgety and I felt like a cow. An exhausted cow who constantly has to take her shirt off. I felt unappreciated and overworked. And to what end? They say that breastmilk is best, but they also say you should breastfeed for as long as you and baby are enjoying it.
Are we still enjoying it, Henry?
When I started the breastfeeding journey I promised I wouldn't put unrealistic expectations on myself. I wouldn't be sad if our journey ended before one year, which is how long I breastfed Olivia. I needed to let myself off the hook, because I can really be too hard on myself, as I'm sure you'll come to understand.
Still, it hasn't quite worked that way. As evidenced by these tears rolling down my cheeks as I try to write this, as I try to let go and lighten up. I started this as a letter to you, sweet boy, as a way to explain my thoughts and close this chapter. I suppose at some level I want to say that I'm sorry. So there it is: I'm sorry. I am sorry we may not make it to one year. I don't love you any differently than your sister. I love being your mama more than any heavenly thing on this earth. Breastfeeding has been a part of that relationship, but it does not define our relationship. I used my body and my heart to grow you. I birthed you into the world with an incredible strength. With a powerful and selfless kind of love. We are bonded, you and me. We have been bonded in ways that are so physical and tangible it feels heartbreaking to step away and inch apart.
But in my heart, I do think this path is the right one. When I hold you, I want to smile. That smile makes you smile, and your smile is like a thousand lightening bugs buzzing around and bouncing off the walls. Your laugh is infectious. Nothing can dampen the tremendous joy I feel when I hold you tight and remember that you are my sweet, sweet baby.
If you could talk, Henry, I think you would tell me that everything is fine. You'd tell me to let it go and put all this to rest. Some day in the distant future you will remind me that you have no memories of breastfeeding anyways, and since you turned out to be both a Rhodes scholar and Nobel laureate, it's now obvious that breastmilk does not in fact make any difference whatsoever. Who knew!
Until that time, baby boy, continue being absolutely amazing and loving.
My love for you will never end,
P.S. If you are interested in the details of weaning, feel free to send me a message, comment, tweet, what-have-you. Weaning before one year is different than weaning a toddler. With time and consistency and a few cabbage leaves (yep!), it can be done painlessly. (But not without a few tears, perhaps). :)